In her latest high-profile role, Anna Friel plays the mother of a trans child
ANNA FRIEL KNOWS what it’s like to push boundaries. She compares the boldness of her new drama series, which revolves around a transgender child, to her ground-breaking lesbian kiss in Brookside back in 1994, when she was 17. “Look how much things have changed in those 24 years, because people have opened their eyes,” she says. Right now, though, it’s hard to think of a more hot-button subject than this.
Friel plays Vicky, the mother of 11-year-old Max (played by brilliant newcomer Callum Booth-ford), who identifies as a girl and wants to become Maxine. The child not only has to deal with the everyday challenges of transitioning socially and at school, but also the fractured relationship between their parents, who are estranged. Max/maxine’s father Stephen is played by Emmett J Scanlan (who appeared in the Netflix thriller Safe), and he has trouble understanding his child’s transition issues. “Vicky still loves Stephen but he can’t bear the situation they’re in,” Friel explains.
Written by Tony Marchant (who previously tackled the Iraq war no less, in his Channel 4 film The Mark
Of Cain), and directed by Anthony Byrne (Peaky Blinders), Butterfly doesn’t flinch from the raw reality of what Max/maxine has to experience – from the bullying and abuse of schoolmates to the painful bewilderment of other members of her family. It also works as a powerfully vivid piece of visual storytelling.
As for the controversy that will inevitably ensue when Butterfly arrives on TV, Friel is sanguine. “I’m not someone who is going to start lecturing people and say we’re some big, worthy drama. Because each and every person has a right to have an opinion. Whatever they feel. But just, please, find understanding.”